Tuesday, June 9, 2020

All Aboard the Havana Special

The Deception Series Book 1
by Sherry Morris

January 1945 in Washington, DC

The announcer boomed in a deep voice, “Now boarding on track number nineteen, the Havana Special. Direct coach and sleeper service to Miami, Florida. Connecting there to swift and safe air service to Havana, Cuba. Track number nineteen now boarding for the Havana Special. Passengers needing assistance, women and children please board now.”

Chloe leaned around the broad-shouldered nun in front of her, counting three more customers. Hurry up. That’s the train I need.

A fat cop escorted a disheveled man across the station by the scruff of his collar and the back of his belt. He threw him outside. “And don’t come back!”

Chloe turned away from the Metropolitan police officer as he stomped back inside. She pulled the cowl over her mouth. What if they’re looking for me already? What if they think I murdered Bill? Chloe shuddered.

An elderly couple ambled hand in hand toward the restrooms. Momma and Daddy never would have shown affection like that. Tears welling up, Chloe dragged her two suitcases as the line moved forward. She gazed above at the intricate gold-leafed ceilings. Statues of the Roman centurions were perched high on a ledge under the dome. The ancient generals are watching over me. I’m gonna be all right. Or are they here commanding their troops? Who is out to get me? Who can I trust?

The announcer inquired, “Would the owner of a lost yap-yap dog please report to the information desk? She’s a hot dog or poodle or somethin’—” The crowd laughed as barking drowned out his voice.

“Next?” the ticket agent asked.

Chloe picked up her luggage and hurried to the counter. She bought a ticket for the Havana Special, scheduled to depart at 1:50 a.m. Looking up at the Roman numerals on the station clock, she saw it was already 1:47. Chloe grabbed her bags and glanced up at the centurions before hustling down the stairs to platform nineteen.

Hot steam blasted her legs as she passed the shiny black Richmond, Fredericksburg and Potomac engine and tender. The conductor yelled, “All aboard.”

Chloe ran past the dark green Railway post office and baggage cars and then five streamlined aluminum coach cars with purple and maroon striping behind the trains’ line names—Atlantic Coast Line, Pennsylvania and Richmond, Fredericksburg and Potomac. The conductor smiled and took her baggage as she showed her ticket. “Welcome, miss. Your seat is on the right. Walk on through to the lounge car for a complementary cup of coffee.”

Chloe said, “Yes sir,” and then pulled herself up the three steps.

Snoring men in uniforms, crying infants and their weary mothers jammed the coach car. Chloe found her aisle seat next to a dozing sailor. She grabbed the armrests and sat down, not jarring any tender spots on her battered body. The baby in front of her began a coughing fit, which in turn woke the little boy in the next seat.

A delicate young Oriental woman wandered through the car. Wordlessly, she picked up a fluffy stuffed lamb from the aisle floor and handed it to a crying tot.

He shoved a wooly ear in his mouth, closed his eyes and grabbed onto the lady cradling him. She thanked the kind lady for retrieving his toy.

Chloe checked her watch. It was 2:25 a.m. Darn it, the train is already thirty-five minutes late departing. She looked out the window onto the platform and saw a couple of fellows dashing toward the train. “Come on, come on, whoever you are,” she mumbled.

The men appeared to have a brief discussion with the conductor before boarding.

Get on the train already. Chloe hoped she wasn’t thinking aloud again.

The whistle tooted twice. The train lurched forward, chuffing through a tunnel under Capitol Hill. The drooling sailor’s prickly head flopped onto Chloe’s shoulder. She shoved him away. His eyes flew open.

“Hey doll face, step right into my dream.” He burped as he kissed her.

Leaping to her feet Chloe screamed, “Eww!” I’ll never be able to go through with this. She ran down the aisle, through the coach cars and into the first sleeping car, where she shoved past a heavily cologned man walking toward her.

Mike Taurus took a deep breath as he tingled on the remnants of her touch. How could she just push me out of the way? It’s as though she doesn’t even realize who she just cast aside.

Two hours later the Havana Special’s brakes squealed as it rolled to a smooth stop. The steam engine’s whistle blasted one long note. Perched on a white leather-topped stainless steel stool bolted to the floor of the lounge car, Chloe looked out the wide window. Sepia clouds framed a new moon. No precipitation fell. The sign on the dimly lit platform identified the station as Richmond.

Edgy from the coffee she’d been drinking for the past hour, she hopped up and hurried through the darkened narrow corridors. In the vestibules, she impatiently heaved one door open, stepped in between the cars and opened the adjoining door. Worried she’d wake someone, Chloe cringed each time a door slammed. There just was no quiet way of transcending the thresholds.

When she was back in her coach car, she squinted in the darkness. The conductor strolled up to her. In a hushed tone, he said, “We’re changing over to diesel engines and adding two more sleeper cars. Go ahead and return to your seat. I’ll let you know when you can walk back to your berth.”

“May I get off the train for some fresh air?”

“No miss. Passengers may not detrain while we’re adding cars.“

She sighed and sat next to the kissing sailor. Spittle ran down his smiling baby face.

If only I could sleep like that.

Chloe grabbed onto the armrests of her wool-upholstered seat, experiencing the aftershocks of a hard jerk when the diesel locomotives coupled. Moments later she heard a bell faintly clanging before a backward thrust and a bump signaled that the Pullman sleeping cars had been added. After a short pause and two toots, the Havana Special resumed its voyage to paradise.

“Miss, you may walk back to the last sleeper car now.” the conductor said.

“Thank you.” She swayed with the cadence of the train, down the aisle of slumbering passengers. An Army Air Corps nurse was sprawled across two seats, snoring. Her legs were splayed open and one foot encroached the armrest, stretching into the aisle. Chloe turned sideways and squeezed past. She stopped and felt around on the overhead rack until she pulled out a blanket. Chloe quietly unfolded the thin white cover and gently draped it over the woman’s legs, hiding the view up her skirt.

She continued walking to the last Pullman car. Letting out a weary breath, Chloe patiently waited her turn in the sleeper. The porter, dressed in a snappy white jacket, assigned her a berth. Feeling as though she’d been hit by a locomotive, she whimpered as he assisted her up the ladder.

“I’m sorry, miss. Are you all right?” “Yes,” she lied.

“You sure now?”

Chloe climbed onto the bunk and swung her legs on top of the cool crisp white sheet. “Yes, I’m fine. Thank you.” Leave already, will ya? She handed him a quarter.

“Thank you, miss. I’ll be by momentarily to collect your shoes for polishing.” The porter pulled the blue wool curtain shut and moved on to assist a woman with three irritable children.

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